You’re here because you want your tracks to have that warm, punchy analog sound, right? Well, buckle in, as we’re about to dive into the world of saturation plugins. For many, saturation is the secret mixing sauce, transforming thin mixes into powerful, full-bodied tracks.

In this guide, we’re going to explore the top 5 saturation plugins that you can add to your arsenal right now. 

Table Of Contents:

What is Saturation?

Saturation is a tool we use to add warmth, depth, and character to our tracks. Interestingly engouh, back in the day, saturation was just a happy accident that engineers got when they pushed analog gear beyond its limits. 

Now, it’s an effect we chase with fervor.

The most important thing to understand is that there are numerous types of saturation, including:

  • Analog Saturation: This style mimics the warm sound of vintage hardware by subtly distorting signals for that classic vibe.
  • Tape Saturation: This style brings you back to the days of recording studios filled with large reel-to-reels, offering compression and harmonic richness.
  • Tube Saturation: Think of the distinct smoothness associated with vacuum tubes heating up and soft-clipping a signal

If you’ve ever wondered why some tracks feel like they’re wrapping around you like a velvet blanket on a cold night, thank these types of saturation for their service. 

Whether cranking up knobs on old-school mixers or clicking through presets on software emulations today, producers use these techniques to breathe life into digital sounds that might otherwise be as exciting as watching paint dry—no offense to any enthusiastic interior decorators out there.

1. FabFilter Saturn 2

If you’re hunting for a saturation plugin that can add some serious color to your tracks, look no further than FabFilter Saturn 2

At its core, Saturn 2 offers not only multi-band processing but also an extensive range of distortion and saturation models inspired by vintage gear. From subtle tube warmth to aggressive fuzz, this beast has got you covered with its fifteen different algorithms.

Key Features

Seriously, the level of control here is insane—you’ve got per-band drive, mix controls, feedback and dynamics options too. The modulation section allows you to animate any parameter in real-time using LFOs, envelope followers or even MIDI sources. Talk about having full command over your sound.

Add on top custom presets from leading producers and engineers across various genres—yeah, they knew what they were doing when they built this bad boy.

Pros and Cons

The pros? Where do I start? It’s user-friendly yet deep enough for power users looking to really dig in. The visual interface is clean as a whistle while providing valuable visual feedback as you tweak away—something we all appreciate when knee-deep in mixing mode.

  • Versatile saturation options—from tape saturation to heavy metal carnage,
  • An innovative modulation system that takes dynamic expression up several notches,
  • Pristine sound quality thanks to high-quality DSP algorithms,

But let’s be fair—it ain’t perfect. Some may find the wealth of features daunting at first glance (although once mastered it feels like second nature). And well…it’s not exactly cheap compared with some other plugins out there but remember folks—you get what you pay for.

Key Takeaway: 

Craving rich, colorful sound? Saturn 2 is your go-to saturation workhorse. With multi-band processing and a buffet of distortion models, you can cook up anything from vintage warmth to aggressive fuzz.

Control freaks will love the insane level of tweakability—animate any parameter with LFOs or MIDI. And it’s not just for pros; the interface makes it easy to dial in great tone without a steep learning curve.

Sure, its price tag might make you pause, but trust me—it’s worth every penny for that top-shelf audio flavor.

2. Soundtoys Decapitator

If you’re looking for a plugin that can give your tracks some serious heat, look no further than the Soundtoys Decapitator. This full-blown flavor factory is the perfect tool for vintage warmth and modern crunch.

Key Features

Decapitator brings analog design attitude to digital recordings by emulating five classic hardware units. Think of it as your go-to spice rack, packed with everything from subtle preamp-style saturation to melting tube overdrive. 

It also features ‘Punish’ mode for extra-aggressive grit—a feature that laughs in the face of subtlety—and an ‘Auto Gain’ button to keep levels in check when things get wild.

Pros and Cons

Lovers of the old-school vibe will dig the harmonic complexity you can easily squeeze out of this thing. Its user-friendly interface means you can dial in killer tones fast, and with AAX Native, AudioSuite, VST, and AU support, it plays nice across various DAWs.

However, those looking for mild mannered might find its aggressive nature too much tiger for their tank. Plus, if you’re counting pennies, it ain’t cheap compared to some plugins out there.

All said though? For me, Decapitator is less like adding salt and pepper and more like dousing your mix with Sriracha. It’s not right for every meal but absolutely brilliant when used appropriately on tracks needing that extra sizzle.

3. iZotope Trash 2

iZotope Trash 2 is the mad scientist of saturation plugins. Beyond the features you’d expect from a basic saturation plugin, Trash 2 delivers a complete distortion workshop ready to obliterate any sound with an extensive range of tools.

Key Features

The key features of this saturation plugin are enough to make any sound designer drool. You get over 60 different distortion algorithms that span from classic tube warmth to wild, unpredictable fuzzes. The plugin also includes filters, post-distortion compression, tape saturation, and an impulse response section for simulating speaker cabinets or other environments.

Multiband processing lets you slice up your track into frequency bands so you can apply mayhem where it’s needed most without upsetting the balance elsewhere. And if that wasn’t enough, the convolution reverb allows adding space and depth after wrecking havoc on your sounds.

Pros and Cons

If versatility were currency, Trash 2 would be minting money. The ability to distort selectively across multiple bands means precision control over how dirty things get—a big plus for those who like their bass thick but their highs clean.

On the flip side, this beast has a relatively steep learning curve. It might scare off beginners with its myriad options and controls. Also worth noting is CPU usage. All these features come at a cost which could slow down older systems during heavy sessions.

4. RC-20 Retro Color

If you’ve ever felt like your tracks are missing that warm, vintage vibe, the RC-20 Retro Color might just be your holy grail of plugins. This nifty tool from XLN Audio is like an audio time machine, letting you add texture and life to sterile sounds with a click.

Key Features

The RC-20’s superpower lies in its ability to emulate everything from vinyl records to VHS machines, infusing your music with the cozy imperfections of yesteryear. Its six unique FX modules—Noise, Wobble, Distort, Digital, Space and Magnetic—offer a playground of sonic possibilities.

You can dial in tube warmth or tape hiss without rummaging through antique stores for outdated gear. And let’s not forget about its Flux Engine. This magical feature adds subtle (or not-so-subtle) instabilities and fluctuations that make digital sound wonderfully analog.

Pros and Cons

Whether it’s lo-fi hip-hop or cinematic scores needing some character – the RC-20 saturation plugin has got you covered. It boasts an interface so intuitive even your grandma could give tracks the retro treatment. Plus, even if you aren’t a tinkerer, it comes loaded with plenty of presets designed by professionals, which serve as excellent starting points.

One of the main downsides, however, is that you get limited multiband control. If you’re seeking precise frequency saturation may find it less targeted than other multiband saturators on the market.

In short, RC-20 is more than just another plugin—it’s an invitation to experiment. 

Key Takeaway: 

Get that warm, vintage vibe with RC-20. It’s easy to use and packed with versatile effects for any genre. Just watch out—you might get lost in all the fun tweaks.

5. Softube Saturation Knob

If your mix is a canvas, saturation is the texture that makes everything pop out just right. And when you’re in need of some serious color without muddying up the works, this is the plugin to reach for.

Key Features

Saturation Knob is an easy-to-use plugin that can inject warmth and edge into your tracks with just one twist. This nifty tool has three modes: Keep High, Neutral, and Keep Low – each tailored to protect different frequency ranges while driving the harmonics home.

Pros and Cons

This saturation plugin offers simplicity at its finest — one knob rules them all. Even so, it’s versatile enough for subtle enhancement or full-blown distortion. Best of all? It won’t cost you a dime since it’s free!

Of course, compared to other plugins on this list, you get limited control, which could be restrictive if you want more tweaking power.

Overall, however, this saturation plugin proves that sometimes less really is more. Its straightforward design lets it slide right into any stage of production without causing a fuss because who needs extra homework? Plus, being light on CPU means even those rocking older setups can get their hands dirty with high-quality sound-shaping goodness – talk about inclusive. 

Key Takeaway: 

Think of the Softube Saturation Knob as your mix’s secret spice. It’s super simple to use and can add that perfect touch of warmth with just one control. Although it may not have all the bells and whistles, its ease-of-use and CPU-friendly nature make it a go-to for adding color to your tracks—plus, it’s totally free.

FAQs in Relation to Best Saturation Plugins

What is the best saturator plugin?

FabFilter Saturn 2 often tops lists for its versatility and high-quality sound shaping capabilities.

What is the point of a saturation plugin?

Saturation plugins add warmth, character, and punch to digital sounds, mimicking analog gear vibes.

Do mastering engineers use saturation?

Absolutely. Mastering pros often apply subtle saturation to glue tracks together and enrich harmonics.

What is saturation best used for?

Saturation shines when adding harmonic depth or grit to vocals, drums, and entire mixes.

Conclusion – Putting the Best Saturation Plugins to Use

There you have it, the best saturation plugins on the market.

All these tools are key players in taking your sound from flat to fabulous. They’re the difference between good enough and great – because every mix deserves to shine.

Of course, if you truly want to make your mix shine, consider checking out the free trial of Mix Elite Academy

We offer access Premium Courses featuring over 320+ in-depth lessons, top-tier Sample & Preset packs, and student discounts of up to -50% OFF on thousands of plugins. Join a thriving private community of students and music producers, collaborate, and receive exclusive benefits to elevate your music production journey. 

Put your production skills to good use and start your free trial now.